Chapter 17

            Of course I did not call in sick. I went on with my job as usual, though I must admit I did keep as far away from Mike Sullivan as possible. Nothing much happened, oh, for two or three days. Then, just after lunch one day, as I was returning to my office, I happened to run into David Ellis, the Signals and Telegraphs Engineer. We exchanged a bit of technical discussion, and as he went on his way he tried to be sociable, tossing a closing remark over his shoulder.

            “By the way, Frank, I’ve just heard about your film. Great idea, that. Hope it works.” And he was gone.

            Film? What film? The only film I had seen recently was the Deborah Kerr one, and why should anybody hope it worked? How was it supposed to work? I brushed it aside and wouldn’t have thought any more about it, but only a few minutes later I had the same experience with Harry Robinson, our PR man.

            “Frank, I’ve just heard about your film. Maybe there’s something in it we could use in a news release?”

            A news release? The papers would be bringing out special editions with a front page story of how the Traffic Superintendent of the Central Region of B.R. had gone to see a Deborah Kerr film? I’d heard journalists sometimes complain about it being a slow news day but surely it could never be as slow as that? There was something wrong here. I had to do some probing.

            “Harry, just what film are we talking about?”

            “You know, Frank, your cine-film. The one in the guard’s van.”

            This was getting worse. I had never had anything to do with any cine-film in any guard’s van.

            “Harry, I have no idea what you are talking about. What film, and what van?”

            Harry assumed what I think he meant to be a furtive grin, a kind of metaphorical nudge-nudge between insiders who are in the know.

            “You know, Frank, the hidden cine camera you had rigged in the guard’s van of the Ulsterman. I suppose it’s all very confidential, particularly as you may now have an actual film of the guard being attacked, and showing the face of his attacker. Let me know when it’s developed, could you? It could be quite a story.”

 

Interruption by the Murderer

            I have to cut in here, because this changes everything. Of course I heard about the film. I think everybody on the station did. For a highly confidential matter they might as well have put it on the BBC. As to why Inspector Fry couldn’t have held his tongue, don’t ask me. I suppose it was their record of failure up to now made him want to boast a bit. Anyway, for me it was a different story. So, that’s it!

            Up to now I had never been too worried, or at least not completely worried, because at the very worst all that could happen to me would be that I was suspected, or even singled out, as the killer of George Carey and Larry Fineman. And you need more than that in court. You have to have actual proof, and nobody had any. But this film is a different matter. If my face really is on it, then that’s it. It automatically is a hanging matter. So I have to stop it at all costs, and quickly, before it is developed. No fooling around with trying to make it look like an accident, or any such luxury. I can’t afford that, not any longer. I may even have to just grab the film and run, for even if my face isn’t on it I can’t take that chance. And if I have to bash Frank in he process, that’s just too bad.

            And where could I run? It might mean leaving my railway job altogether. I suppose I would just have time to call by my home to pick up money – I always have some there for emergencies, and an emergency is what this surely is – money, yes, and my passport.

            Passport? Because it strikes me that the best and easiest place for me to run to would be Ireland. Cutting across country I could just about catch the Irish Mail as he goes through Crewe, and be into Dublin in the morning. I could even see Ian at Trinity College, for what that’s worth. Anyway, from now on I have a lot to think about, so don’t expect any further comments from me. I’ll be too busy!

 

Narrative resumed by Frank McMullen

            Now, I ask you, what do you say to a barrage of nonsense like that, over a film? It is beyond all comprehension. So I went back to first principles of investigation, and faced up again to Harry, our PR man.

            “Could I maybe ask where you heard all this?”

            “I was there when Inspector Fry was mentioning it to Warren Taylor. There were one or two others around too, I think. So it doesn’t sound top secret, does it? But I’ll keep my mouth shut!”

            Warren Taylor was the Nottingham Central stationmaster. So if he knew of this ridiculous story, and David Ellis, and Harry Robinson, and an anonymous group of ‘others’ knew of it too, then it looked as if Charlie Fry had blanketed the whole of Central Station with…, I don’t know what to call it, this grotesque rigmarole of gibberish. What on earth could he be up to?

            Leaving Harry with his mouth hanging open, I barged off to Charlie’s office. I got the impression he was expecting me, as well he might. I faced him squarely.

            “Charlie, would you mind telling me why the entire staff of Central Station thinks I rigged up some kind of secret cine camera in the guard’s van of the Ulsterman? Just put it down to natural curiosity, but I’d like to know.”

            Charlie wriggled uncomfortably in his armchair and carefully avoided catching my eye.

            “It’s actually Inspector Barrett’s idea, and he pretty well pushed me into it.”

            “Yes, I’m sure you were very reluctant, but you still haven’t told me what is going on, or even what this story about the cine camera actually says. Maybe we could start with that? What does the story say?”

            Charlie wriggled even more.

            “Well, I’ll tell you the truth. The story is that you had installed a hidden cine camera in the guard’s van of the Ulsterman, operated automatically by a time switch. You did it because there had been complaints of pilfering, luggage, and the like, stolen, thrown out of the van to picked up later by some accomplice. And the camera was timed to switch on at various places, but that night – the George Carey night – it was supposed to switch on, coincidentally, between Leicester and Vinley. So it might well have photographed the actual murder. Incontrovertible evidence. And, the story goes, you have only just managed to recover the film from the camera because that van was removed from the Ulsterman set for some reason, and has only just been reattached to it. So you only got the film to-day, and you are taking it home to-night to drop off for developing, as a rush job, to be ready to-morrow. So by to-morrow we may have a picture of the murderer in action.”

            I could hardly contain myself.

            “I see. And whose bright idea was this?”

            Charlie did some more wriggling.

            “In a way, yours.”

            “Mine?”

            Was the world going mad around me?

            “Well, Inspector Barrett told me that when you were talking to him on the train to Sheffield you said it was a pity we couldn’t do something to put pressure on Mr. Sullivan and see if he didn’t make some false step that would enable us to nail him. So he thought of this. The idea is that if the murderer thinks there is solid evidence linking him with the crime, he will, let’s say, respond actively – Barrett’s words. So we’re informally making sure that the word goes out.”

            I was left almost speechless. Eventually I managed to reply.

            “So, let’s be clear. I am the bait. The murderer is told that I have evidence, and the police then wait and see if he murders me. That’s right, isn’t it? I wasn’t even told, let alone asked.”

            “Inspector Barrett says you will never be in any danger. He’ll have men watching you every step of the way, ready to move in the moment anything happens. He says it’s our only chance of grabbing our man. As you know, we have still no firm evidence. And we want him. He was already committed two murders.”

            “And you plan to make him try for a third, and the third is me? Is that it?”

            I noticed he had not answered my question, why had I not been asked, or even told. However, I guessed at a probable answer. Barrett had doubtless insisted on it, for he knew that I would never say yes. This way the thing was done and the story was was out before I could stop it. And if I went round the whole station now shouting at the very top of my voice that it was all a put-up job, the real killer would think I was just trying to fool him by denying it, and anyway he’d feel he just couldn’t afford to take a chance. Through my head floated fuzzy memories of stories I had read about how in India they would tie to a stake a bleating goat, to attract the tiger for the great white hunter to shoot it. It seemed to be an uncomfortable parallel with the present situation. And I was the goat.

            I really can’t remember too clearly what I did for the rest of the afternoon. I stuck around our offices and the public areas of the station, everywhere I could see there were still people around. He wasn’t going to bang me on the head before witnesses. I also looked for my police protectors, but couldn’t see any. Then, a worrying thought. I’d be going home alone, after night fell, driving around the A 60. Wouldn’t that be the place for, shall we say, some decisive activity? Damned if I knew! So in all that followed I am not sure I always did the right thing, the smartest thing. I can only ask you how do you think you would react if you suddenly found you had become the tethered, bleating goat, waiting for the tiger.

            All through the afternoon nothing much happened. I stuck to my usual routine. Of course, I could break from my set habits and so perhaps confuse and get away from the murderer, but, as like as not, I would then also be getting away from the police protection. The day came to an end shortly after five o’clock, when I realized I had already made my first mistake. It was already dark, and I had left it too late. The various offices were all empty, and everybody had gone home. I looked around my own office, and remembered that this was exactly where Larry Fineman had been coshed, probably with my own poker. Not a good omen, and a good place to get away from. I went, indeed I hurried, down the stairs to the station forecourt. Behind me was the noise of trains and people. Safety in crowds? I could go back, where I would surely be safe. But I couldn’t stay there all night. I had to get home. Nobody in sight anywhere in the forecourt. I walked over to the Morris, but before I got there, there was a shout.

            “Hi, Frank! Have you half a minute?”

            Mike’s voice.

            I didn’t even turn round, but hurried on to my car. This was the way to get away from him.

            It wasn’t.

            My car was sitting down, low, with all the tyres flat.

            This time I did look round. Mike had come out of the shadows and was already between me and the door to our offices. I could not go back. And in the forecourt I could not outrun an ace rugby player. But I now knew I had to get away from him. Barrett’s plan to flush his prey had worked. Mike was after me. I began to run.

            Where to? That’s it! In front of me was a brick wall, the back wall of the Nottingham Central engine shed. It had a small door in it, little used but now standing hospitably open. I dived headlong through it.

            I was now in the engine shed.

            Normally you think of an engine shed as a busy place. So it was at Nottingham, but I was at the wrong end of it. Some sheds are roundhouses, but ours was long and straight, with five parallel tracks, filled solid, end to end, with locomotives. At the back, where I came in, nobody was about, apart from a couple of fitters working at something on a bench. They paid no attention to me, and I rushed on, further into the shed.

            This end of the shed was a dark and gloomy place. All the engines at this end of it were in store, a long line of them, out of service, great black, sooty, cold, silent, lifeless hulks, towering above me, a row of dark, dimly seen giants. The tracks were close together, so I went between them, aiming to get to the other end of the shed, where the action was, with the foreman’s cubbyhole and engines going in and out. It was like being in a canyon. Railway engines do look very high when you are standing down on the ground, on a narrow walkway sandwiched between two rows of them, lit only by a few low-wattage bulbs hanging from the roof.

            “Hey! Frank!”

            He was just coming through the door behind me. In the dim light I was sure I could see something long and ominous hanging from his hand. A hammer? A fishplate? I didn’t think he had seen me yet in the shadows, but he certainly would if I moved quickly, started running toward the possible safety of the front of the shed. And even over a short distance like that he could catch me. My only way was to hide. But where?

            My first move was to think of the inspection put under each line of engines. I dodged between two of them and down into the pit. It was half full of dirty water. I hadn’t bargained for that, and it struck me he had likely heard me splashing about in it. Get out of here!

            I climbed up back on to the floor, but on the other side of the pit so that I was now on the next walkway, between two new rows of engines. I looked both ways. No sign of him. He must be still along the other track, where I had come in by the door. So where to next?

            It came naturally. With all those dead locomotives looming high above me, the question answered itself. Hide on an engine. I jumped at the nearest one, feeling in the gloom for the handrail, and scrambling up the steps on to the footplate. At the top I turned and looked round. Was that a movement there, far back between two engines? Had he seen me? Quickly I drew back into the cab. What now? If he had seen me he would know which engine I was on, and would be coming to search it. So how do you hide on the footplate of a dead engine?

            The tender. That was my first thought. I could easily climb over into it, and duck down among where the coal was. That way the cab would be empty, and…no, no go. That’s the first thing he would think of. The man was a railway engineer. So, then?

            When I was a trainee apprentice, one of the jobs the London and Northern laid upon me to do, was that of engine cleaner. One of the things that job laid upon me to do was cleaning the firebox. The firebox is the place for the furnace that heats the water in the boiler. There is no water in it, nor, in a dead engine, no fire either. You go into it through the firedoors, where the fireman normally shovels coal on to the fire, and inside it is like a small room, not enough for you to stand up or lie down, distinctly cramped, but, this time, maybe, safe?

            The only way in is through the firedoors. I opened them, they slid apart. Now how did I used to do this, when I was a cleaner? Face first, and face up. I was thinner then, as a cleaner, than later, as Superintendent, and for a few moments I actually got stuck in the hole. Wriggle, wriggle, a tearing sound from my trousers, and I was in. I was now in complete darkness and fumbled by feel alone to get hold of the firedoors and slide them nearly closed behind me. Then I crawled over the grate, where the fire normally would be. Now, somewhere, spanning the firebox from side to side, there’ll be the brick arch. Bang! My head has found it. I curled up in a corner and hoped for the best.

            There were feet climbing the iron steps up into the cab. Then movements around it, on the footplate. A shout of “Frank!” dispelled any doubts. Maybe he was now looking the tender. Would he think of –

            A gritty rasping as the firedoors were thrown open.

            He had brought a flash lamp and its beam swept around inside the firebox,

            Another shout.

            “Frank, come out of there! I can see you!”

            Bluff?

            I didn’t move.

            With a clang the firedoors were thrown shut and the footsteps receded. Bluff it was. So I was safe, for now at least, but that didn’t mean I was in the clear. Far from it. He had closed the firedoors. When they are fully closed the firedoors cannot be opened from the inside. There is no latch. That’s why I had left them just nearly closed. That way I could push them open, to get out again. All this was a carryover from my engine- cleaning days, for when you go inside the firebox to clean it you always left a hammer or something wedging the doors open. Otherwise you were liable to have some of your friendly mates come and slam the doors shut behind you, with some cheering comment, like “Hah! Let’s see you get out of that, now!” Eventually, of course, they would let you out, to a chorus of merry, ribald comments from the whole shed. I had no such knights riding to the rescue. I was shut in and couldn’t get out, and if I started shouting for help the one man I didn’t want to let me out would let me out.

            So I settled down to wait it out. Of course, I could start shouting, but not for a long time yet, and in any case nobody much ever came to that end of the shed; it might be a very long time before anybody heard me. Even that was an optimistic assumption. Still, I had at least avoided all chances of this investigation acquiring yet a third corpse, my own, and it’s a rare goat that can outsmart the tiger. Compared with that I suppose that even dying of thirst and starvation, imprisoned in the firebox of a steam locomotive, would be ranked as an improvement. Certainly I had never heard of such a thing ever having happened before to a Traffic Superintendent of a Region, so it would at least have the impact of novelty. In fact I did not have to wait all that long, not more than half an hour or so. Then came a faintly heard voice.

            “Mr. McMullen! Where are you? Give us a shout!”

            It was not Mike’s voice, and came an added shout, the most beautiful thing I have ever heard in my life.

            “Mr. McMullen! Police!”

            I raised an answering shout, took off a shoe, and started hammering with it on the inside of the firedoors.

            The shouting came closer, and then there were heavy boots climbing up into the cab.

            “Where are you, sir?”

            If any confirmation was needed, the ‘sir’ did it. And of course the police wouldn’t know about fireboxes or firedoors.

            “I’m in here! In the firebox! Open the doors and let me out!”

            There was some shuffling about, and renewed enquiries on how to release me from my locomotive dungeon. I tried spelling it out for them.

            “Turn round, looking towards the front of the engine. In the middle, low down, there is a pair of sliding doors. Higher up, to the left of them, is a handle. Pull it, and the doors will open.”

            And, do you know, they did, and the doors did open. I looked out through the hole, and the first thing I saw, oh, welcome sight!, was silver buttons a dark tunic, and, above them, a policeman’s helmet.

            Getting out through the round hole was, for some reason, even harder than getting in through it. This time I really did stick, and they had to pull me through, by sheer brute force and strength. And I don’t think I’ll ever be able to wear those trousers again.

            What a relief it was to be able to stand up straight in the cab! There were two uniformed constables and a young man in fitter’s overalls, must be one of those two that I had seen when I was chased into the engine shed. I stepped up to him and gave him the energetic handshake you reserve for a personal saviour.

            “It must have been you, then, that called the police. You have no idea how grateful I am! And,” (a senior officer ought to know who he was indebted to), “and could I ask your name?”

            The fitter had the good grace to look as if he had been slightly wrong-footed.

            “Detective Constable Ryan, sir, Nottingham CID. We’ve been watching you all along, sir.”

            I could only gape at him open-mouthed. He made the only possible reply.

            “I think probably Inspector Barrett would like to speak to you, sir.”

            I looked over the side, and there, down below, stood Inspector Barrett and Charlie Fry, I climbed down.

            “Well,” said Barrett, “in the end it all worked, didn’t it? We forced his hand, and, you know, it was you, Mr. McMullen, who first gave me the idea of trying something like this. And you carried it out to perfection. I’m afraid your Mr. Sullivan gave you rather a bad time, and I don’t suppose this was exactly the scenario you had in mind, but it was the best I could think of. And there you are! Anyway, you won’t have to worry about having an office next to a murderer any more. You can relax, now.”

            “Oh? Did you get him, then?”

            “No, we didn’t get him, not really.”

            Charlie Fry let me have it, clear and simple.

            “Frank, Mike Sullivan is dead.”

            “Dead? What happened?”

            “It was panic. He was making a run for it. Our men were after him. He cut across the tracks at the far end of the station, Platforms 2 and 3, where the Sheffield electrics go out. He tripped and fell. Right on top of the live third rail. He got 600 volts DC through him. And he even had this in his hand. It made good metal contact with the rail, though all those volts would probably have got him anyway, but this made sure of it.” And he held up something he’d been holding by his side.

            My poker, from my office.

            If there had been any doubt about what Mike had intended to do, there wasn’t now.

            So no courtroom trial, no further complications, no worrying about hard, firm evidence. And the whole affair did after all end up in three corpses. I managed to get Charlie to one side as we walked out.

            “Charlie, I thought that you told me Barrett had his men too overstretched to be able to do anything about this case. Just the same, he seems to have done a pretty good job here.”

            Charlie smiled.

            “Ah yes, if you asked him I expect he’d say he’d just managed to squeeze it in between his other commitments. He’s sometimes like that, quite a modest man. But two murders in Nottingham is not something he will easily let slide. And he didn’t. Now all he has to do is catch Paddy and his E.R.A. buddies before they blow up the pub. All I can say is, if I were Paddy I’d sure look out for him.”

            I in turn smiled, and as we walked down the line of engines on our way out, I noticed that at the front end of the one I had been hiding in, the buffer beam was badly bent and above it was hooked a small red notice, “Not to be Moved.” I took a quick glance at the engine’s number. As I suspected! It was old ’39. Driver Bryce had made good on his determination to get her withdrawn. And after nearly killing me with her wild performance of the Charleston, she had ended up saving my life from a murderer.

            Credit where credit is due!

            And what a conclusion to our story!

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